Building Bridges with Piles of Stones
Reconciliation event looks to repair relationships
5 min. read
February 26, 2013

On Saturday, February 9, the Office of Justice and Reconciliation of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Canada and some members of the Meadowvale Community Church partnered with CLEAR, Redeemer’s Continuing Education program, for a remarkable day that examined our past, and looked to the future. reForming Relationships at Redeemer: A day of Exploring the Themes of Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice through Worship, Learning, Art and Stories, was the title of the day-long conference that saw about one hundred people engage in conversation, learning, and listening with indigenous people of the area. This conference was organized in connection with the dynamic artwork series “Kisemanito Pakitinasuwin—The Creator’s Sacrifice” by Cree artist Ovide Bighetty. The tour of this exhibit includes events that create space for listening, learning, dialogue, and building relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. The day began with a great pile of stones. Before the participants arrived, the planning team used oil to consecrate the stones and pray over them. As people arrived they were given a stone, which represented the fact that each one of us has a voice and a right to speak. The stones served witness to all that occurred that day. Many indigenous people believe stones to be the oldest living things in the world, worthy of the same respect you would give to your elders. All stones have a “memory” of the earth’s past, so it is very important to honor that memory and knowledge. reForming Relationships Show 2The theme of the day was the “Church’s Role – What should our response be?” Many of the speakers and panelists were indigenous, and the event drew participants from a wide variety of church denominations, a significant group from KAIROS Canada, and a number of students, including the team of Redeemer students who traveled to Timmins, ON during Reading Break for a service and learning trip focused on First Nations issues. Lori Ransom, an ordained elder of The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, and Senior Advisor for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada offered the keynote address. Lori began with an acknowledgement that we were gathering on traditional territories of both the Mississaugas and Iroquois people “whom the Creator first placed on these lands, giving them as a sacred gift of a homeland, calling them to use the land with honour and to exercise careful stewardship of its resources… a call that persists to this day and is shared by all peoples who live here now.” She shared some of her own story and focused on how she “ feels strongly that Christians have much to contribute to the journey of reconciliation out of our sacred understandings, our teachings about the subject of relationship, and how people should treat each other. Indigenous people who practice traditional spirituality, like us in the church, share a belief in the sacredness of all peoples, see all peoples as sacred gifts from God, the Creator, and believe that we need to lift up and hold on to that sense of the sacred in each other as we move forward.” The morning also included a chance for participants to experience a Welcome to the Land ceremony by Garry Sault, an Ojibway elder from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Garry was also one of the afternoon workshop leaders and his storytelling had listeners in rapt attention as he wove the tales of Nanabush and the ancient legends that provide great wisdom, between intervals of traditional drumming. Other workshops provided opportunities to hear the powerful story of residential school survivor Leona Moses; a chance to engage with the art and to explore it with artist and First Nations member Philip Cote; and a practical workshop titled Indian 101 with Carolyn King, resident and member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Because participants where so engaged, organizers were challenged at the conclusion of each session to encourage people to move on to the next session of their day. It seemed no one wanted to stop listening. Dave Gordon of KAIROS, York Region responded following the event that he appreciated the “collaboration by many faiths about social justice initiatives and the sharing in best practices.” Gordon went on to remark that “the last two FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) meetings that I have attended were extremely blessed with many young adults — a sign of a great future.” reForming Relationships Show 3It was evident that the event just scratched the surface of what can be done to build better relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people. But it was also an incredibly hopeful day; the desire to hear and share was palpable. The day ended with the exchanging of the stones that had been carried with each participant throughout the day. People turned to each other and shared observations and what they had learned, exchanged stones, and then left the stones in the middle of a large medicine wheel in the centre of Redeemer’s Art Gallery as stones of remembrance. By placing them together in a cairn, it becomes a witness to our determination before each other and God the Creator to keep reforming relationships with His help. These stones will stay on Redeemer’s soil, and when the snow melts they will be placed in a memorial garden as a testament to the steps taken towards reconciliation. They will acknowledge Redeemer’s intent to continue to honour the land the First Peoples who inhabited it, and to honour the relationships that God intended to be formed between all His peoples. In Judeo-Christian history, God often used stones to mark significant events. How appropriate to see how stones are used even today in a similar way. This event garnered attention from a number of media outlets including Christian Week.

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